The past week and a bit has been busy for the Toronto Maple Leafs – who played five games in seven days. While they were a number of winnable games for the Leafs, the blue and white came out of that stretch with a 2-3 record – beating the Oilers and Penguins and giving up points to the Flyers, Wild and Red Wings.
While the Leafs did have to battle some significant injuries of the last week – and continue to – not everything was bad news for the storied franchise looking to add to their history books. Milestones and win totals took shape over the last week, while the city of Toronto announced a special day to commemorate the franchise.
Leo Komarov: Time is Ticking
Let’s start by discussing some not-so-exciting news surrounding the team. We all know that Leo Komarov isn’t paid for offensive prowess. He’s a gritty, physical pest that doesn’t mind getting into the dirty areas on the ice. He’s the type of player you love to have on your team, but don’t want to play against.
That said, he’s owed $2.95 million this year and will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of 2017-18. Chances are, the Leafs aren’t going to bring Komarov back next season. At least it won’t be for nearly $3 million per season again.
Komarov had 32 points in 82 games last season for the Leafs. This year, he has just seven through the first 34 games. And as Jeff Veillette points out, he’s the lowest scoring Leaf players since 2007-08 with at least 400 minutes of ice time.
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that the Leafs will either try to move the physical forward at the deadline or, at the very least, let him walk following the season.
The Falling Leafs Facing Injuries
The Leafs are looking at another few games without Auston Matthews in the lineup. They’re currently 5-3-0 without their star sophomore this season and it seems as though they’ll have to continue to find ways to beat teams without him.
Matthews continues to deal with an injury he likely sustained in a collision with teammate Morgan Rielly in a win over Pittsburgh on Dec. 9.
While Matthews continues to rehab, the Leafs are also dealing with an injury to defenceman Nikita Zaitsev. According to TSN’s Kristen Shilton, Zaitsev blocked a shot from Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall on Friday. That could have something to do with the lower-body injury that he is dealing with.
Martin Marincin was recently recalled by the Leafs to take Zaitsev’s spot in the lineup.
While the Leafs would love to have both back in the lineup, coach Mike Babcock said he’s taking a different approach to the recovery process.
“I used to ask players questions [about injuries], but what it is, it’s perceived as pressure from the coach,” said Babcock, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “And especially anything that lingers, if that makes any sense. That’s not my job as coach. … When you’re putting pressure on the guy and he comes back and he gets injured – and you see it all the time, recurring injuries – it makes no sense. Like you’re better, especially in a situation like we are, you buy a little time.”
Leafs Win 20 of 31
On Dec. 10, the Leafs beat the Oilers 1-0 thanks to a 41-save performance by backup Curtis McElhinney. Zach Hyman scored just 34 seconds into the game and the Leafs, on the back of McElhinney, notched their 20th win of the season.
The win came in just their 31st game of the 2017-18 campaign and at the time they were 20-10-1. They’ve lost three straight since, but their 20 wins in 31 games was the third fastest pace in franchise history.
Marleau’s Milestone Mania
The Leafs’ Dec. 12 game in Philadelphia was a milestone one for team veteran Patrick Marleau. For starters, it was his 1,525th career regular season game. With that, Marleau passed current team president, Brendan Shanahan (1,524 games played), on the NHL’s all-time list.
While the Leafs went on to lose the game by a score of 4-2, Marleau recorded his 11th goal of the season at 9:48 of the first period. The goal also marked the 1,100 career point for the Leaf forward. He became just the 60th player in NHL history to reach the 1,100-point plateau and just the third active player to hit the mark.
One game later – in Minnesota – Roman Polak reached a mini milestone of his own. He became the 177th player in franchise history to play 200 games with the club and just the 53rd defenceman to do so.
Introducing Toronto Maple Leafs Day
Finally, on Monday the city of Toronto in coordination with Mayor John Tory officially proclaimed that December 19, 2017, would be considered Toronto Maple Leafs Day as part of the 100th celebration of the NHL franchise.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) December 18, 2017
The day marks the 100th birthday of the storied franchise and clearly an important day for the organization and the city of Toronto.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.